It’s hard to imagine a better evening of regular-season softball than the one the Schaben family enjoyed with Harlan Community on Monday night.
This is the 13th and final season that one of Gary and Jackie Schaben’s four daughters is playing varsity softball for the Cyclones. The parents simultaneously threw out the first pitch before the Hawkeye Ten Conference game on Senior Night with Atlantic.
Their oldest daughter, Brooke Wilson, is in her fourth season as Harlan’s head coach. And their youngest daughter, Morgan, is the team’s lone senior. Morgan Schaben fired a three-hit shutout, striking out 11 and walking one, as the Cyclones ended a six-game losing streak against the Class 3-A No. 13 Trojans with a 3-0 victory. Morgan Schaben also drove in all three runs.
Harlan is in the midst of one of the state’s most dramatic turnarounds. In Wilson’s first three years as the head coach, Harlan was 13-23 in 2016, 12-22 in 2017 and 15-17 last year. Entering Tuesday’s games at Lewis Central and St. Albert, Harlan was 20-5 overall and atop the Hawk-10 at 13-1.
“It was kind of a full-circle moment for me,’’ Wilson said of Monday’s events. “Even the players that didn’t play were crying after the game.’’
Wilson was an intense competitor in her playing days. In a program as tradition-rich as Harlan’s, her first three seasons at the helm were tough to swallow.
“I hate to lose so much,’’ she said. “Always have. After these losing seasons you’re like, ‘Geez, does anyone even care?’’’
The Schabens, who are from Portsmouth, care deeply about softball. Logan Schaben, the Nonpareil’s 2015 Area Player of the Year, has one more year of eligibility at Iowa State, while the second-oldest, Taylor, won the award in 2013. She started her softball career at Missouri Western before joining the Drake rowing team.
Harlan put together a travel team the last couple of springs, and Gary Schaben coached the squad. It allowed them to play 15-20 extra games, which has proved invaluable.
“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,’’ Wilson said. “He’s just a positive influence on the girls. He just loves the game and he loves his daughters, so he’ll do whatever it takes.’’
In the preseason, it didn’t take long for Wilson to realize that things were changing.
“I just kind of left practice with a smile on my face every day,’’ she said. “I was like, what is going on? When is the ball going to drop? It can’t be this easy.’’
That offseason work has led to newfound confidence. Instead of dreading the ball coming to them, they’re welcoming it. Instead of inventing new ways to lose, they’re finding ways to win.
“It’s awesome seeing the girls just expecting to win,’’ Wilson said. “I think it’s really, really hard to coach that and teach that, because you have to win to know what it’s like. Now they’re expecting to win. They believe they should win. If they lose, they’re extremely upset.’’
Morgan Schaben, who will play at Central College in Pella, is batting .494 with 13 doubles, five homers, 33 RBIs, a .544 on-base percentage and an .848 slugging percentage. In the circle, she’s 16-5 with a 1.51 ERA, including 163 strikeouts and 44 walks. Last year, she was 10-11 with a 2.44 ERA along with 181 strikeouts and 59 walks.
“I think the best is still yet to come,’’ Wilson said. “She continues to get better. Each game she brings something a little bit different. It’s obvious that, wow, it’s really all coming together.’’
Freshman shortstop Kate Heithoff is batting .434 with 11 doubles. Wilson said she’s constantly asking what she can do to improve. She didn’t play shortstop in youth softball, but was thrown into the position as an eighth-grader based on need.
“Now she looks like she was meant to be there,’’ Wilson said.
Sophomore catcher Madison Schumacher is batting .368 with 10 doubles, five homers and 26 RBIs, along with a .724 slugging percentage.
“She’s just a straight-up stud,’’ Wilson said. “Morgan does a great job, but (Madison’s) the core of that.’’ Schumacher threw out two girls attempting to steal in Monday’s victory.
Other full-time starters have been sophomores Julia Schechinger, Miranda Goetz and Kennadi Carey, along with freshmen Tianna Kasperbauer and Jordan Heese. Sophomore Emily Brouse and eighth-grader Aurora Miller also have been major contributors.
Monday was an emotional night all the way around. Morgan Schaben bashed a two-run double against the fence in right-center to give Harlan a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning. Her oldest sister said the significance of the moment wasn’t lost on anyone, after the struggles of the last three summers.
“Our dugout just lost their mind,’’ Wilson said. “We’re kind of sick of losing so much. Morgan ran off the field in tears because she was so happy.
“I feel like it’s been five years in the making. We have sophomores that I look at like they’re juniors or seniors. It’s really nice to finally be seeing some success and realize there’s a reason to this madness.’’
Harlan’s last state appearance was in 2010, their coach’s junior year.
“That’s in the back of their minds, for sure,’’ Wilson said. “That’s just part of it, knowing what your goals are. They’ve talked about it since the end of the season last year, really.
“Our girls were like, ‘We want people to come to our games. We want to do something different.’’